To the OP - empower yourself, stop cowering to your fear, and turn it around to anger, turn it against itself. Stop allowing your fear to get the better of you, instead you get the better of it.
Here is a great article I want you to read. It greatly helped me with overcoming my fear of stadium jumps. This is written my Jane Savoie, a phenominal Sports Psychologist and Dressage Rider, trainer, competator.
What an incredibly versatile emotion. It can disguise itself as worry, anxiety, insecurity, timidity, or doubt. And it can invade our lives as fear of failure, fear of physical injury, fear of embarassment, fear of helplessness, and even fear of success just to name a few. It's an uncomfortable sensation and riders at all levels tell me they often go to tremendous lengths to stay in their comfort zones so they can avoid the dry mouthed, sweaty palmed, and rubber-legged symptoms of fear.
But rather than trying to avoid fear, let's look at it from an entirely different perspective. First, consider the possibility that fear itself really isn't the problem. In fact, you can actually regard it positively as a symptom of growth. Everytime you stretch yourself, aim a little higher, or take a risk, you're going to experience some anxiety. So fear itself is not the issue. The problem exists only when your fears lead to a state of paralysis, and you become so immobilized that you're unable to do what you want.
So rather than interpretting fear as a signal to retreat, start to think of it as a "green light" to move ahead. If fear goes hand in hand with growth, why would you want to escape it completely? Instead, savor fear as a sign of your development and regard it as a companion that accompanies you on all your exciting adventures.
As you use that "green light" to signal you to take action, you'll find that your actions actually alleviate your fear. You see, you might think you're safe if you stay in your comfort zone. But refusing to push through your fears actually leaves you with a greater sense of dread because of the accompanying feeling of helplessness.
So take a small risk every day. That's not to say that you should take foolish chances. Always make sure you're well prepared for the task at hand. But taking a well-thought out risk will make you feel great. And even if it doesn't work out, at least you've made an effort. You're not sitting back powerless and immobilized by your fears.
Fear Becomes the Goal
In my article entitled GOALS: Target For Success (January 1996 Dressage Today), I explained how your subconscious mind can function as a goal-striving mechanism. One of the fascinating things about this process is that the subconscious is non-judgmental. It doesn't care if the goal you give it is positive or negative. It just directs your actions to move you relentlessly towards what it thinks you want.
Since your mind always moves you towards your current dominant thought, for better or worse, you program yourself both with your words and your mental images. If your speech and pictures are negative, your fears become your goal.
For example, if you repeatedly say, "My horse isn't ready for this level and my test is probably going to be a disaster." or "I'm a nervous wreck when I compete and can't sleep the night before." or "I'm afraid my horse will have a mental 'meltdown' if I ask for more collection.", the words "disaster", "nervous wreck", and "meltdown" become the goals.
Or let's say you keep your fears to yourself and don't verbalize them. BUT you're gifted with an extremely vivid imagination. You can picture potential disaster in great detail like the rider who told me she had a very distinct mental image of what would happen when she asked her young horse to canter. She clearly "saw" him launching her into the air where she did a perfect full twisting somersault before landing unceremoniously flat on her back in the dirt!
Since it's a given that fear will be your companion, what can you do to prevent it from becoming your goal? First, when you find yourself obsessing about something, do some thought stopping. There are all kinds of ways to do this so choose a method that's easiest for you. For instance, try saying the word, "Clear" to quiet your mind and erase the negative pictures. Or picture the thing you fear the most, and then see yourself drawing a big, black X through it.
Or try this. Go out and have a look at a stop sign. I mean really study it. Memorize the details--the size, shape, colors, and style of letters. Then when your mental demons plague you, superimpose that stop sign in your mind's eye over the image of whatever it is that you dread.
Or perhaps it'll better suit your style to bargain with your fear. For instance, your internal dialogue might sound something like this. "Just leave me alone and give me a few minutes of peace so I can ride this test (warm up this 3 year old, canter this fence) and then I'll pay attention to you again."
Or how about limiting obsessing about your fears to a 20 minute period each day? During that time, worry your head off! Pour your heart and soul into agonizing about your fears. Then, when your twenty minutes are over, times up. If you begin to worry at any other time during the day, tell yourself you'll just have to wait until your designated "worry time" the next day 'before you can pay attention to your fears again.
Once you've done some thought stopping, begin to reprogram your mental computer through self-talk and imaging.
Find buzz words that empower you. One of my students froze every time she thought her horse was going to wheel around and take off in the opposite direction. Her catch phrase became, "Take charge." and that mobilized her. Another rider who tended to be too conservative in competition used the phrase, "I'm a risk-taker."
Or how about considering the fact that if you truly believed that you could handle anything, you'd have nothing to fear. So, your motto becomes, "I can handle it." Or "Feel the fear and do it anyway."
As far as imaging goes, I'm a great advocate of visualizing the ideal scenario because I believe that perfect practice makes perfect. However, if you find it difficult to do "perfect practice", do some coping rehearsal instead.
For instance, let's say it's early spring and you're getting ready for the first competition of the season. You've been preparing diligently all winter and you're psyched. As you tend to all the last minute organizational details, you reflect about how much fun it will be to take your 4 year old, chestnut thoroughbred mare to her first competition. Your sense of anticipation stays with you right up until the time that you go home, listen to the evening weather report, and hear that there's an arctic cold front blasting in overnight. The temperature is going to plummet some 30 degrees and the wind will be gusting to 45 MPH. To top it all off, your ride is at 7:45 A.M. And you think, "I'm gonna DIE!"
Rather than visualizing yourself being catapulted into outer space, do some coping rehearsal instead. "Watch" the whole potential disaster unfolding. "See" it in great detail. And then continue your mental videotape until you see a successful resolution to the scenario.
For example, you take your mare off the trailer. She's dancing around and screaming hysterically to the other horses. It takes two people to hold her steady enough so that you can tack her up. As soon as you mount, you feel a hump in her back and her tail goes straight up like a flag. You piaffe out to the warm-up area (by the way, she doesn't even know how to piaffe).
As you begin your warm-up, she begins to buck exuberantly. BUT THEN...You realize that during all of her antics, you're never actually unseated. (See...You can handle it.) Your breathing begins to get slower and deeper, and your physical tension dissipates. After those initial exciting moments, your mare settles down to business. You proceed with your usual warm-up, go around the outside of the arena, and come down the centerline to ride the test of your life!
SO EMPOWER YOURSELF!! Stop allowing your fear to dominate you and get the better of you. Stop playing the victim, and do something about it! It is easy to play the victim isn't it? It is easy to cower out of a situation and run away, but by you doing that - you've lost!
Stop playing the victim, and empower yourself!